I'm sure most of us who have watched the History and Discovery Channels (which is unfortunate actually, to see some of the few channels dedicated to science and the persuit of truth succumbing to such fantasies as cryptozoology and the paranormal), are familiar with the Bermuda triangle. What is the Bermuda Triangle?
"The Bermuda Triangle (a.k.a. the Devil's Triangle) is a triangular area in the Atlantic Ocean bounded roughly at its points by Miami, Bermuda, and Puerto Rico. Legend has it that many people, ships and planes have mysteriously vanished in this area. How many have mysteriously disappeared depends on who is doing the locating and the counting. The size of the triangle varies from 500,000 square miles to three times that size, depending on the imagination of the author. (Some include the Azores, the Gulf of Mexico, and the West Indies in the "triangle.") Some trace the mystery back to the time of Columbus. Even so, estimates range from about 200 to no more than 1,000 incidents in the past 500 years. Howard Rosenberg claims that in 1973 the U.S. Coast Guard answered more than 8,000 distress calls in the area and that more than 50 ships and 20 planes have gone down in the Bermuda Triangle within the last century."
"Many theories have been given to explain the extraordinary mystery of these missing ships and planes. Evil extraterrestrials, residue crystals from Atlantis, evil humans with anti-gravity devices or other weird technologies, and vile vortices from the fourth dimension are favorites among fantasy writers. Strange magnetic fields and oceanic flatulence(methane gas from the bottom of the ocean) are favorites among the technically-minded. Weather (thunderstorms, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, high waves, currents, etc.) bad luck, pirates, explosive cargoes, incompetent navigators, and other natural and human causes are favorites among skeptical investigators."
I don't know about you, but when I was a little kid, the thought that such a fantastic phenomenom was real, and not only that, but also so close to where I lived (the Bermuda Triangle touches the northern part of Puerto Rico) gave me great excitement. However, is there really anything to be explained? Is there anything actually out of the ordinary going on in this area?
The short and simple answer is, probably not. If you take a look at this map, you will see just how silly the claims really are. Notice that most of the supposed mysterious disapperances and unexplained events have occurred outside of the supposed triangle. Many wreckages are not even included in this map because the scale of the map would not allow them to be shown, some were even as far away as Ireland and Portugal. How can this be?
A Square marks a ship or aircraft that "disappeared."
A Triangle marks a ship or aircraft that was found abandoned.
A Circle marks a ship or aircraft that sank, crashed, ran aground, or capsized.
I don't know about you, but I think it is curious to see that there is even a lost vehicle in the Pacific that is blaimed on the Bermuda Triangle.
Here is an excerpt from James Randi's 'Flim-Flam':
"The point is that, if it exists at all, this is certainly a most diffuse phenomenon, and it appears that it only proves, as a the old saw tells us, that 'accidents will happen.' I must mention that I refused to include on the map those alleged accidents that never took place at all or involved nonexistant craft or people. Also, you will not find here those 'vanishments' that took place somewhere along a thousand- to three-thousand mile-long plotted voyage that might have led the travelers through the Triangle."
'There are some skeptics who argue that the facts do not support the legend, that there is no mystery to be solved, and nothing that needs explaining.The number of wrecks in this area is not extraordinary, given its size, location and the amount of traffic it receives. Many of the ships and planes that have been identified as having disappeared mysteriously in the Bermuda Triangle were not in the Bermuda Triangle at all. Investigations to date have not produced scientific evidence of any unusual phenomena involved in the disappearances. Thus, any explanation, including so-called scientific ones in terms of methane gas being released from the ocean floor, magnetic disturbances, etc., are not needed. The real mystery is how the Bermuda Triangle became a mystery at all.'
For the most part, the reason the Bermuda Triangle has become so famous is because of certain snake oil salesmen...I mean...authors...who have deliberately twisted the facts in order to have them fit into a particular superstitious framework. Thankfully there are certain skeptics out there who have taken it as a duty to fact check books such as 'The Bermuda Triangle', 'Mysteries From Forgotten Worlds', and 'Without a Trace' by authors like Charles Berlitz.
A good book that sorts out this nonsense is The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-Solved.
One example described in this book serves to illustrate how careful one has to be in accepting what is asserted as evidence. According to one incident, 'thirty-nine persons vanished north of the Triangle on a flight to Jamaica on February 2, 1953. An SOS, which ended abruptly without explanation, was sent by the British York Transport just before it disappeared. No trace was ever found.'
Now, lets look at what really happened:
"The flight plan specified Jamaica as a destination, it's true, and this would seem to connect it with the Triangle. But the plane, when it was lost, was on a flight from the Azores to Newfoundland, in Canada, a flight that took it along a northwesterly path away from the dreaded area! The plan called for a stop in Newfoundland, then a flight to Jamaica. Since its terminal destination was Jamaica, the promulgators of the Legend called it 'a flight to Jamaica' without further explanation. Moreover, the plane admittedly was lost 'north of the Triangle'-nine hundred miles north of it! There is no mention of the weather, but the New York Times that day reported an 'icy, gale-swept North Atlantic...strong winds and torrential rains...winds up to seventy-five miles an hour.'
Then there is the mysterious SOS signal, 'which ended abruptly without explanation.' This sounds logical enough. An aircraft, lashed by a severe storm in the middle of the Atlantic in winter, gets into trouble, radios the standard international distress call, and crashes without further 'explanation'. A tragedy, but one that has occured hundreds of times around the world, and not at all strange or unexplainable. But it would have been, had not someone like Larry Kusche scrutinized the information that the promoters of this nonsense have offered the public to make their point."
A huge problem is the media, who give these authors the benefit of the doubt. 'Uncritical publishers regularly turn out books and periodicals without checking the accuracy of their contents. They call such trash 'nonfiction', and the public assumes that 'non-fiction' is synonymous with 'truth'. Some publishers even claim that the works they publish are researched thoroughly to ensure factual content, although this is not the case.'
Kusche reviewed another Berlitz book, 'Without a trace', in which he wrote: "His (Berlit'z) credibility is so low that it is virtually nonexistent. If Berlitz were to report that a boat were red, the chance of it being some other color is almost a certainty. He says things that simply are untrue. He leaves out material that contradicts his 'mystery'. A real estate salesman who operated that way would end up in jail."
There are many such examples, I wont write all of them in this blog because it will get too long, but if anyone asks, I can provide more in the comments section. Here is one short one: "The loss of Eastern Airlines Flight 401 is a good example of Berlitz's hyberbole and evasive writing. He tells us that the Eastern plane 'suffered a loss by disintegration' Sounds scary doesn't it? The image that arises in one's mind is of an aircraft peacefully humming through the sky and then suddenly beginning to break into peaces in midair for no reason at all. How strange. But not quite so strange when we discover that the crew of the plane had switched off the autopilot in the black of night over the Florida Everglades (where there are no ground lights for reference), worked on a flight problem in the cockpit, and failed to notice the loss of altitue until they flew into the ground-and disintegrated!"
It makes for a fascinating story, if it were a Science Fiction novel, but people for some reason keep repeating these stories as if they were true to one another without bothering to ever fact check. The world is a fascinating enough place as it is without having to attribute spirits to waterfalls, and blame mysterious lost civilizations like Atlantis for the every day failings of ships and airplanes.
"In short, the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle became a mystery by a kind of communal reinforcement among uncritical authors and a willing mass media to uncritically pass on the speculation that something mysterious is going on in the Atlantic."